Rocketman

BLAST OFF

Main Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell

Director: Dexter Fletcher

I must admit I was in a bit of mopey mood around Casa Maine the last few weeks.  I’ve been missing Normy terribly and not even a spate of orders for my new line of hoop skirts for the modern woman (soon to be available at Pic and Saves nationwide) could truly lift my spirits.  I imagine we all go through such periods in life, so I tried to pick myself up with a few Long Island Ice Teas, a trip to the spa for a mani/pedi, lunches at The Ivy hiding behind large dark sunglasses so as to avoid the paparazzi – the usual things that generally help stars of my magnitude.  None of it was overly helpful.  The nail polish fumes gave me a dreadful headache and I tripped on an uneven sidewalk coming out of the Ivy to the valet and landed right on my pert little derriere.  Unfortunately, someone snapped a photo right then and there was a highly unflattering little article in the National Intruder suggesting that I was more than slightly intoxicated in public.  There’s not a word of truth in it. I only had four martinis with lunch and that’s really not enough to cause even the slightest change in my dancer’s sense of balance.

I of course recognized that the only thing that was really going to help was a new project that would bring my brand of razzle dazzle entertainment to world wide audiences but the scripts and offers arriving in the mail have been a bit sparse the last few weeks.  I simply had no interest in being a guest corpse on a CSI franchise or a featured zombie on The Walking Dead.  In order to keep myself busy, I broke out my one-woman version of HMS Pinafore and spent some time in the studio working on improving it.  Madame Mimi, my vocal coach, attended a room run and thought my high notes spectacular, especially when impersonating Dick Deadeye.  I did the high B flat I interpolated into Kind Captain I’ve Important Information gave the piece that certain je ne c’est quoi.

This morning’s mail brought an offer for me to do some sort of role in a new European production of something called The Ring Cycle.  Generally, I try to avoid pieces about telecommunications after my production of Menotti’s The Telephone was not particularly well received in the Orkney Islands on a UK tour some years ago.  (I blame an indifferent sound technician who apparently was piping in the sounds of local sheep and trying to blend them with my voice).  But, an interesting project is an interesting project, so I contacted Joseph, my manager and told him to find out more about the opportunity.

In order to celebrate, I headed out to the local cineplex where I caught a matinee of the new film biography of Sir Elton John entitled Rocketman starring Taron Egerton.  I went into the film expecting a standard modern musical biopic somewhat similar to Bohemian Rhapsody where all the songs are diegetic, being sung by the actors impersonating pop culture legends on stages or in studios – places where they would have sung in real life.  It’s not what I got.  I knew we were in for a wilder ride when Mr. Egerton, as the mature Elton, comes striding down a hall in a fantastical demon costume as if he’s about to take the stage as the consummate showman that he is.  Instead, he enters what turns out to be a group therapy/twelve step meeting and he begins to unburden himself about his addictions and talk about his dysfunctional childhood.  His young self is then seen, enters a fifties British suburban cul de sac and soon we’re in the midst of a full-blown production number.  Director Dexter Fletcher and writer Lee Hall have obviously been studying the oeuvre of Ken Russell, especially his film versions of Tommy and The Boyfriend.  It’s a little disorienting for the first few minutes until you begin to understand what the filmmakers are doing and the visual and metaphorical style they’ve chosen to use.  Once you’re with them and recognize the sly subversion of beginning Rocketman with a cherubic little boy leading a chorus in The Bitch is Back, you know we’re in for a rollicking good time.

Rocketman covers Elton’s depressing and dysfunctional childhood with his unloving and quarrelsome parents Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Stanley (Steven Mackintosh) and his nurturing grandmother Ivy (Gemma Jones), his musical prodigy gifts encouraged by his grandmother, his playing keyboards in backup and bar bands, and his pairing with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) as lyricist who provides the catalyst that allows his songs to become something more.  He moves on to success in the UK and the US, in ever more elaborate shows and costumes, has his first true love affair with manager/publicist John Reid (Richard Madden), and, as he reaches the pinnacle, he comes crashing down with a combination of excesses bringing us full circle to the beginning of the film.  Will Elton conquer his demons and perform again?  Hard to keep the outcome of that particular plot point secret given that he’s still with us and touring in his 70s as one of the grand old men of pop music.

Rocketman shifts back in forth in tone between musical fantasia and more standard concert sequences but always feels like a fully formed and unified work thanks to Dexter Fletcher’s assured direction.  He’s ably assisted by Taron Egerton in the lead role.  Mr. Egerton, who is not quite 30, has a good enough makeup job to go from a late teens Reginald Dwight (Elton’s real name) to a dissipated mid 30s when Elton had his breakdown and rehab stint.  There are times when I could forget that I was watching an impersonation and actually thought it was the young Elton as I remember him from long ago.  Mr. Egerton also does his own singing.  His voice is lighter and higher in pitch than the original but a reasonable facsimile.  Jamie Bell, as Bernie Taupin, also has some very nice moments, and gets one of the best musical moments when he turns Goodbye Yellowbrick Road into a song of anger and lament at Elton’s bad behavior and trashing of their long friendship. 

Rocketman doesn’t shy away or play coy with John’s homosexuality and makes the reasons for his brief marriage to the unfortunate Renate (Celinde Schonemaker) clear.  The film also dips its toes into Elton’s legendary temper and bad behavior and allows us to see that he was no saint, but it never goes so far as to let us lose sympathy for him.  We come to understand him as a man who just wants love, and when he has trouble getting it from the people in his life, he goes looking for it in the adulation of crowds, the excesses of drugs and alcohol, and, when it is truly offered by friends, he doesn’t always recognize it and spurns it to his detriment.

Costume designer Julian Day and production designer Marcus Rowland recreate the splashy tour outfits and the hedonistic world of the 70s with an eye to detail and the combination of the familiar music of the era with eye popping visuals brings back memories of the world where Studio 54 was the ultimate pop culture environment.  We don’t get a scene there, but that jaded demimonde dominates the last half of Rocketman.   It made me want to break out my sequin tube top and head out to The Abbey.  It’s a film worth seeking out, especially if you have fond memories of the 70s and its music.

Detachable devil horns. Jazz records. Significant Beatles photograph. Interracial sexual awakening. Gratuitous carnival dance number. Dodger stadium concert. Party at Mama Cass’s.  Symbolic doll house. Rooster outfit. Suitcase of sunglasses.  Stomach pumping dance moves.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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